Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Lead Sheet: December 19-26

Two weeks in a row! Maybe this will become a habit. I just need to figure out when the week begins—Friday? Sunday? Let’s go from weekend to weekend?

Jazz isn’t taking a holiday this season, in fact the end of the year often brings about some of the best in music. And the offerings this weekend alone give jazz a broad definition. You can hear the most classic of swing and song or the most “out” and envelope-stretching of modern improvisation.

A rare three-night gig at the Artists Quarter in St. Paul presents the very hip, very on-the-edge trio, Happy Apple (December 19-21). I first heard Happy Apple before they hit the international scene as part of a double bill at the Cedar Cultural Center, maybe seven years ago. They followed a very cool set of solo bass by Adam Linz, no slouch himself when it comes to on-the-edge innovation. But as much as I loved Linz, I was totally thrown off guard by Happy Apple. I left after three tunes. At the time, I would have said that I was using the word “tunes” generously. About five years later, and after many hours of listening to increasingly out music, I braved another Happy Apple set, at the Artists Quarter. And I enjoyed myself and the many turns and twists of their collective improvising. I suspect the difference was an intersection between some changes in Happy Apple’s approach and changes in my own listening and thinking about modern jazz. By then I had also heard saxman Michael Lewis with his other main band, Fat Kid Wednesdays, and drummer Dave King with the inimitable Bad Plus. Both bands have significantly different sounds than Happy Apple, but I think the familiarity and appreciation of the musicians in other contexts creates a navigable pathway into the music. With Lewis, King and bassist Erik Fratzke, Happy Apple will keep your ears and brain fully engaged. Be warned if you go that this tends to be the biggest draw of any gig at the AQ, so arrive early! Sets at 9 pm Friday and Saturday and at 8 pm on Sunday.

On the other side of the jazz universe is Bing and the Andrews Sisters, a musical revue starring Arne Fogel, Kathy Mueller, Lisa Pallen and Aimee Fischer at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (December 21, 2 pm). Fact is the show is sold out so if you don’t have a ticket, your chances are slim although always worth calling the box office to see if tickets have been turned back. Arne Fogel has been keeping the voice of Bing Crosby alive and well in the Twin Cities for years, through live performances and his radio show, The Bing Shift. He’s also had the privilege of working with Bing’s widow Kathryn Crosby and examining some of the papers and other memorabilia of Bing’s estate. Not sold out and at a more intimate venue, Arne performs Friday night (December 19th) at Cue at the Guthrie, maybe the classiest if unintended spots for jazz in the Twin Cities. As I mentioned last week, this might be the end of jazz at Cue if the new owner isn't convinced that jazz and Cue were meant for each other. Meanwhile, check it out for yourself and tell him what you think. (Alicia Wiliey, Maud Hixson, Charmin Michelle and Dean Brewington are on the schedule for the rest of December—check out

Connie Evingson is always a good bet, and she’ll be at the Dakota on Monday (December 22, 7 pm), undoubtedly with some frankincense and myrrh from her holiday recording (The Secret of Christmas) and likely more from her recent release with Dave Frishberg (Little Did I Dream). But you never know, Connie is the most eclectic jazz singer around, and she is as likely to pull out Lennon and McCartney as Peggy Lee or George Gershwin. Or Django Reinhardt. And she covers them all as if they were written with her in mind. Dave Karr tends to appear whenever Connie is near, and that is always a good thing.

Like the big sales, some of the most exciting jazz will come right after Christmas next weekend, when the highly creative pianist Bill Carrothers returns to the AQ (December 26-27) and the highly flammable Bad Plus returns to the Dakota (December 26-29). They overlap. For me it is a no brainer, this means two nights of Bill and two nights with the BP. I’m warning you early because you will need reservations for the BP and you better not wait.

Happy Holidays from JazzINK!

Photos: (Top) Connie Evingson at last summer's Bloomington Jazz Festival; Arne Fogel; Happy Apple's Dave King; Michael Lewis. All photos by Andrea Canter.